And then there were bees.
Fifteen minutes ago, I was hiding on my porch from a scorching afternoon. I was quietly, harmlessly pecking away at my keyboard, trying to find a way to describe Pai to you.
That was when the first of the bees appeared and saved me the effort. It seemed no big deal. Just another day in the vagabonding, location-independent lifestyle. My porch was surrounded by a fragrant garden. It was filled with flowers and horny, howling cats. The bees didn’t seem so out of place. They did friendly flybys and investigated me with compound eyes.
Then a peculiar thing happened. The first bees, having determined that my pollen content was pretty low, should have moved on—but they didn’t. Instead, more and more of their cohorts joined the party. I soon realized that a full-on insect invasion was beginning to take hold. A rave of buzzing, stinger-armed things in a swarming orgy suddenly engulfed my porch. In a matter of minutes, my happy little hiding place was transformed into a hellish cloud of noise and venom.
Here’s a video of the bees erupting from beneath my porch:
I calmly shut my laptop lid, stood up, and retreated. I had been gotten rid of. An angry buzzing of victory laps followed in my wake. I think they were telling me not to come back anytime soon. I had already paid for the night, so this new arrangement was clearly not going to work.
I approached the sleepy woman at reception with my unique problem. She barely lifted her cheek off folded arms to hear my grievance. A Thai soap opera flickered on the television.
“Excuse me…I have bees.”
Clearly annoyed, she sighed a single question: “How many?” Only in Asia would a conversation begin, or even proceed, like this.
“Loads. Bees mak mak (many). Jing jing.” Jing jing means “definitely…100 percent true” in Thai.
“Just wait.” Her expression never changed.
I hesitated a moment, not sure if she meant I was to wait for her to go get a flamethrower—the only sure way to clear out this sudden infestation—or if she meant I was to wait on the bees to make a move. When she went back to her soap opera, I assumed that she had meant the bees were calling the shots on this one. I crept back onto my porch, grabbed my laptop, and darted inside.
I hate giving up ground, but the porch was definitely in enemy hands. An occupation was taking place.
In less than an hour, the bees were inexplicably gone. A migrating hive of some sort, not unlike the millions of ants from a migrating colony I discovered on my porch in Koh Chang a few years ago. As Ice Cube once said, today was a good day. I went to bed later that night smiling.
Pai is Thailand’s little riverside town once famous for high hippies before it was overtaken by Chinese tourists and backpacking kiddos shrieking about the Full Moon Party.
But a place is what you make of it, and I generally made Pai one helluva good time. I drove a motorbike, as I ritually do, up from Chiang Mai. Five hours of leaning through turns over mountains does wonders for morale. I gripped that throttle until my hands were permanently gnarled into raven’s claws.
I’m also convinced that I sent yet another motorbike to the junkyard. There just aren’t enough cubic centimeters in these engines to handle a full-on run to Pai in 102-degree-Fahrenheit heat. On one of my stops at a shady spot in the national park (where the sudden appearance of pine needles made it smell like home) another peculiar smell hit my nostrils.
This one was coming from the motorbike itself. After butchering scooters for years, I know the familiar smells of overheated brakes or burning oil from a blown head gasket. But this smell was much sicklier and sweeter, something from the clutch or gearbox maybe. Every time I screwed the throttle down hard, I heard a metallic rattle. It sounded as if at any moment an explosion of gears and gizmos would litter the road. If that happened, I would have some serious hitchhiking ahead of me. And the woman at the rental shop would expect one hell of an explanation.
What was left of her motorbike would have to be returned in a cardboard box. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. I rolled into Pai victoriously with a tired scooter gasping beneath me.
But back to the story at hand. I got up sometime in the middle of the night and fumbled across the dark room to find the toilet. There was a peculiar sensation on the bottoms of my bare feet. Not the cold, soulless tiles I expected. Instead, I was walking on a soft, velvety carpet of sorts. I switched on the light and nearly shrieked at what I saw.
Not dozens, but literally hundreds or more. All dead. They were stacked on the ground, a lifeless carpet of tiny insect corpses. My first thought was that their stingers probably still worked. The thought had me tap dancing out of there like Fred Astaire. Somehow, the whole damn colony had forced its way through a hole in my screen, became trapped, and simply gave up.
The epic migration of an entire colony ended here—in my bathroom.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. A sudden sadness chilled me. The scene really was grotesque. One simply doesn’t expect to see total obliteration on a sleepy trip to the toilet. The world is suffering from a decline in bees—a serious problem considering how they pollinate the plants that produce our veggies. Overnight, I had managed to kill an entire colony. No wonder biologists have had so many theories related to the decline in bees. No one ever suspected that a guesthouse room in Pai, Thailand, could be the cause.
Here’s a video of them trapped in the bathroom screen:
As the bees were swept away the next day, I had a strange epiphany of sorts. I realized just why I can’t stop traveling for too long. The sheer unpredictability of the Road has me hooked up to where I can’t live without daily hits like this. I’m a certified junky, and yes, it’s chemical.
I enjoy my hometown of Lexington, Kentucky, but then again, I’ve never been swarmed by bees in a cafe while working. And I’ve certainly never trodden on a carpet of dead ones. And while these aren’t necessarily good things, they do provide juicy hits to the dopamine receptors in the brain.
My receptors stay busy these days.
Seeing new things, investigating new cultures, meeting extraordinary people, risking your life…all these are great for self development. But perhaps travel addiction simply boils down to the unpredictability of the Road. There just aren’t enough random bee swarms at home.
I’ve noticed how when I return to the United State everything appears to be moving slower. Those thousands of tiny, problem-solving decisions I’m forced to make here daily to survive are missing. My brain is still seeing the Matrix code, but it doesn’t need to: Agent Smith isn’t around to shake things up a bit.
Toilets flush neatly at home without unexpectedly erupting into geysers. Bees act like normal, civilized bees rather than suicidal maniacs. Restaurant menus typically aren’t 90 pages long with a handful of potentially poisonous choices. People aren’t wandering around on magic mushrooms at 3 p.m. I don’t hear 12 languages a day. I don’t have to blast through police checkpoints on my motorbike to avoid paying bribes. I usually don’t have to shoo a cat off of my restaurant table. Or open my door to let out a centipede/spider/scorpion/obscenely large cockroach. Geckos don’t fall from the ceiling while barking and mating. Yes, they bark.
You get the idea. All of the oddities, and many more, I just described happened within a two-day span here in Pai. And Pai, although beautiful, isn’t even what I would call an adventurous place.
Unpredictability is something not to be taken for granted. Remember how much you loved to change up your bedroom when you were a kid? Or how exciting it was when your teacher rearranged the seating chart? The class felt new and interesting for a few weeks before going back to being the mundane norm. Our brains are wired chemically to deal with changes and small challenges. Our ancestors had to constantly stay on their toes in order to survive.
This beautiful world of ours is completely out of control. But sometimes that’s a good thing. The edge of chaos is the most dangerous place to be. You aren’t guaranteed safe passage until you’re a contributor. Better to enter the storm and become a part of the vortex rather than a spectator on the fringes. As Akira Kurosawa said, “In a mad world, only the mad are sane.”
May there always be a Road…we need a little chaos in our lives.